Future of Whipps Cross ‘still undecided’

Health secretary Matt Hancock
Health secretary Matt Hancock, centre, meeting doctors at Whipps Cross last month

Boss of Leytonstone hospital’s redevelopment gives reassurances over land sales and beds, reports James Cracknell

The man in charge of rebuilding Whipps Cross University Hospital says although he cannot give guarantees over beds the new facility “will be the best it can be”.

Concerns have grown that plans for a new hospital may include reducing the number of beds, with health bosses recently being quizzed at a public meeting.

Speaking to the Echo, Whipps Cross redevelopment director Alastair Finney said plans were still at an early stage, but that bed numbers would be determined by need. “I have not yet met a single person who thinks the redevelopment of Whipps Cross is a bad idea,” he said.

“I am not able to guarantee that [there will be more beds] because of where we are in the process. I do acknowledge people’s concerns – the hospital is under significant pressures. We are currently at 100% bed capacity, or just below, whereas national guidance says it should be 92%.

“Our original business case – which was never approved – said there would be a similar number of beds required at Whipps Cross. It recognised there would be population growth but also assumed there would be greater emphasis on care in the community, outside hospital.

“We are now starting again on the modelling for Whipps Cross. Unfortunately I cannot commit to how many beds there will be at the end of that process.”

Whipps Cross currently has 600 beds and treats 209,000 patients annually, but its oldest buildings pre-date the NHS itself. Pressures include a growing elderly population and the potential closure of King George Hospital’s accident and emergency department, in Redbridge.

Alastair said: “There are dozens of patients in acute beds at Whipps Cross that would be better cared for in a non-acute bed, perhaps in a nursing home. It’s pressure across the wider system that prevents them being moved – part of the strategy is about creating capacity elsewhere.”

Whipps Cross University Hospital
Whipps Cross University Hospital

The new Whipps Cross Hospital building is expected to cost around £500million. Since Private Finance Initiatives (PFIs) were scrapped, the money needs to be found through a combination of a Treasury loan and local sources – likely to include selling land for housing.

“We have been open about this,” Alastair told the Echo. “One of the key ways of funding the hospital will be selling surplus land for residential development. We made a commitment that we won’t sell any land at Whipps Cross ahead of our business case being agreed. There had previously been a plan to sell three of four hectares but that was aborted.

“We will come up with a plan that consolidates the hospital on a smaller footprint, because at the moment it is inefficiently planned. Whipps Cross has 18 hectares and a significant portion of land could be used for non-healthcare activities. This is not about building a smaller hospital – it will be a smaller footprint with a more efficient design.

“The size is determined not just by beds but by outpatient facilities, treatment rooms and operating theatres. We need a hospital fit for 21st Century medicine. But we will not be forced to reduce the number of beds in order to raise more money.”

Interest payments on a previous PFI deal struck by Barts Health Trust, for Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel, have contributed to it becoming the most indebted trust in the NHS – and being placed in financial ‘special measures’.

Alastair said: “It’s up to us to show Whipps Cross can make a positive financial contribution. The hospital is expensive to keep open because of the inherent inefficiencies of an old building. We must make sure the efficiencies of the new building outweigh what we need to pay back to the Treasury.

“Quite rightly there are concerns, but we all want a new hospital that is the best it can be. We want something that benefits everyone.”

If Whipps Cross redevelopment plans are approved, construction could begin in 2023 and then take up to ten years. On a visit last month to hear the case for building a new hospital, health secretary Matt Hancock said it was “evident to anybody walking around it.”

Find out more about the Whipps Cross redevelopment plans:
Visit bartshealth.nhs.uk/future-whipps